Correction: A previous version of this story said a police officer ordered the Dunnams to leave their home on October 18, 2018. It was actually a city staff member who was with the officer that day who asked them to leave.
STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
For over 14 years, the city of Marble Falls has been working to acquire property on the peninsula between Backbone Creek and Lake Marble Falls.
The City Council on May 21 took action to purchase the two remaining lots at 110 and 114 Buena Vista Drive.
“The original plan was to just allow those two properties to stay,” said City Manager Mike Hodge on May 22. “However, what has happened with the bank erosion, that has changed, and put it into an emergency situation.”
The October 2018 flood washed away the bank behind properties on Buena Vista Drive and Backbone Creek. The back of the house at 114 Buena Vista, seen from Johnson Park, looks as if it is hanging off the edge of the bank.
City Council voted 3-1 to approve resolutions to begin the process of acquiring the properties through eminent domain.
Council member Reed Norman voted against the resolutions, while Dee Haddock, Craig Magerkurth, and Mayor John Packer voted in favor of them. Council members Celia Merrill, Richard Westerman, and Dave Rhodes were absent.
“I’m not at all in favor of eminent domain. But knowing that this is a process that will stop the spending of needless money on both parties, I intend for this to come to a very fair agreement and negotiation, so I will second that motion,” Magerkurth said during the City Council meeting.
Hodge said the owners of 110 Buena Vista have been in negotiations with the city.
Brian and Nancy Dunnam, who own the home at 114 Buena Vista, spoke during the City Council meeting about their experiences since the October flood.
Nancy Dunnam told the council it was two days after the flood before they heard from the city.
“One of the men literally ordered us off of our property,” she said. “Please keep in mind this is our home, guys. We are parents with a family that reside in our home. And we have been directly affected by a natural disaster, and this is how our city treated us. A very unpleasant experience.”
The next day, Mike Hodge explained the city’s response in the days after the flood.
“We are truly sorry if, in fact, during the course of the flood, we didn’t handle their situation correctly, but there was a lot going on,” he said.
Hodge said the city didn’t realize a family was living at the home at first then made the decision to evacuate them when they saw the back of the house, which appeared to be hanging off the bank’s edge.
“That’s what we were reacting to; it truly was a concern for their safety,” Hodge said.
The Dunnams have requested, and Hodge said the city is looking for, the body camera footage from the officer who was at the Dunnams’ home October 18, 2018, the day a city staff member ordered them to leave.
At the May 21 meeting, Nancy Dunnam said she and her husband had submitted a structural engineer’s letter in January that stated the home was structurally sound. In February, Nancy said they received a letter from the city stating what it was requiring from them.
“And we had more engineering studies performed, making every effort to protect our property. We were waiting on our last report from our geotechnical engineer that we hired when we received a letter from the city that they wished to acquire our property,” Dunnam said. “It was a surprise to us. We’ve met with the city before, and they’ve never mentioned it before. Never offered. Never talked about it. We have spent thousands of dollars only to find out that the city has misled us and is starting the condemnation process.”
Hodge said on May 23 that the city sent an informal offer letter in March, telling of its interest to acquire the property.
“It took over three weeks for them to respond, and we sent it by certified mail,” he said. “We’ve yet to receive back the (receipt).”
During the City Council meeting, Hodge said it had been “extremely difficult to get in touch with the Dunnams” in the past few months.
The back-and-forth continued and came to a head during the recent City Council meeting as the Dunnams, Hodge, and Development Services Director Valerie Kreger had a confrontation in the hallway outside City Council chambers during the meeting.
Nancy Dunnam accused the city of making it appear the family has been dodging the city. Hodge said the Dunnams had mischaracterized the way the city behaved.
Brian Dunnam is shown as the property owner, according to the Burnet County Appraisal District, purchasing the property in 2002.
“The city’s position and intent has just recently been made clear. We have been open and forthcoming on our plans to recover from the damages we sustained from the October flood,” Brian Dunnam replied in writing May 23. “In light of the recent letter we received at the end of March and the City Council meeting two days ago, we will now be refocusing our efforts.”
Now, the city and Dunnams will focus on the next steps of negotiations.
Aside from that, Hodge said the city also needs to think about stabilizing the bank along Backbone Creek.
In the City Council agenda packet, the city said successful bank stabilization would require a structure nearly 800-feet long with the need to cross property lines.
Early estimates for such a structure, Hodge said, are near $2 million. What the Dunnams want to do to stabilize the bank on their private property, Hodge said, the city doesn’t believe would work “for a longer-term solution.”
The city, after the flood was declared a natural disaster, is meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of funds spent on the flood and to ensure any future actions would meet FEMA requirements. Along with that, any potential structure to stabilize Backbone Creek would require permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
After the meeting, the city released a statement about the process of acquiring both properties.
“The safety of our citizens is our priority. We wish to reach a fair and equitable purchase price with the property owners. We understand these are their homes and plan to keep their sentiment in the forefront of our conversations,” Mike Hodge stated in the release.
Any further actions will be on future agenda items.